To address the paucity of specialist doctors in district hospitals, the Centre has revived post-graduate diploma courses that one can pursue by clearing the NEET-PG exam after completing MBBS. Hospitals with a minimum of 100 operational beds are eligible to seek accreditation with National Board of Examinations (NBE) for the diploma courses.
The NBE, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Health has launched post-MBBS two-year diploma courses in eight broad specialities -- anesthesiology, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, family medicine, ophthalmology, radiodiagnosis, ENT and tuberculosis, and chest disease.
The Medical Council of India (MCI) had in 2019 converted its diploma courses into degree courses to overcome the shortfall of teaching faculty in the country.
To fill the void caused by discontinuing the MCI diploma courses, the health ministry had asked the National Board of Examinations to look into the possibility of launching the diploma courses under its aegis, an NBE official said.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, the weakness and shortcomings of primary and secondary healthcare delivery system became obvious, thereby putting an extra burden on tertiary care health centres with medical colleges being converted into dedicated COVID care and treatment centres.
"It was, therefore, imperative to augment the hospitals catering to the population in rural, semi-urban areas, and tier-two and tier-three cities," Professor Pawanindra Lal, the Executive Director of NBE said.
After a series of consultations with the NITI Aayog, the Medical Council of India and the health ministry, the NBE prepared a blueprint for starting diploma courses and subsequently notified the launch on August 20.
The diploma courses of NBE are approved by the Union Health Ministry, and are included in the first schedule of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, vide a gazette notification dated August 6.
Professor Lal hoped the diploma courses will provide the much-required trained manpower to district hospitals.
"This will enhance the readiness of the district and sub-district hospitals to provide effective healthcare in situations like the coronavirus pandemic," he said.
The NBE diploma courses in anesthesiology, family medicine, tuberculosis and chest disease will provide trained manpower within the geographic region of the community for handling epidemics and common diseases, the NBE executive director said.
The diploma courses in paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology will augment reproductive and child healthcare delivery system and will prove to be a milestone in reducing maternal and infant mortality, he added.
Acknowledging the role of the health ministry in a speedy approval of NBE diploma courses, Dr Abhijat Sheth, the president of NBE, said, "These courses will provide the much-needed opportunity to our medical graduates to undergo post-graduate training considering that there is still a significant shortfall in the number of post-graduate seats as compared to that in MBBS."
Professor Lal said the key emphasis of NBE diploma courses shall be on government hospitals and district hospitals.
Entry to the diploma courses shall be through NEET-PG under the Post-Graduate Medical Education Regulations notified by the MCI.
Also, keeping into consideration the requirement of the states, 50 per cent of NBE diploma seats in the district hospitals of a state shall be reserved for in-service candidates of the state concerned. This will reduce dependency on tier-I cities for providing healthcare.